The Woman Alone

Endpaper drawing, 1919, Helen Turner

In researching the history of homelessness in Seattle as it has affected girls and women, I ran across this cringe-worthy magazine article/opinion piece. As it is unlikely to make its way into the book chapter I am writing—and since it provides some perspective on why we still have a women’s movement, I will share it here. The drawing (above) by Helen Turner (my paternal grandmother) is from the last page of her Georgia Normal Industrial College yearbook of her senior year. She wanted to be a teacher and an artist but instead, she married and raised three sons mostly on her own.

“Motherhood is the acme of motherhood. The girl alone can never be a mother, nor sit the queen of a happy home. The girl alone is a sinful, selfish, miserable, abhorred, ugly, wretched, hideous creature, whom to know is to shun and to meet is to pass by. She is an outcast and a social parasite.” (source: Honor L. Wilhelm in The Coast magazine, January 1901, p. 74)

I am grateful for the hard work of the many women on whose shoulders I stand. And I know that we all have much more work to do to make this world a safer, healthier place for all girls and women.

They Must Move

“Crusade to be begun against Shantytown. Health Board says its sanitary condition is such that it must be cleaned out.”

Sound familiar? Here in Seattle, perhaps substitute “unsanctioned tent encampments” or “tent cities” or even “tiny house villages” for “Shantytown” and it would be all too familiar.

Yet the “They Must Move” headline is from the front page of the Seattle Daily Times on August 16, 1899. The Shantytown in this article was located along a similar stretch of Seattle waterfront as the Depression Era Shantytown known as Hooverville depicted in the photo montage above. The photo is meant to depict an irate Seattle housewife living on Beacon Hill. She is pointing at the shacks below her and insisting they be cleaned up and burned down (which they eventually were). I have as yet been unable to find the specific source/photo credit for this photo but am told it is from the Seattle Times from the 1930s.

Finger-pointing and scapegoating are juvenile, divisive, and destructive. By anyone in any era. And when they are done by supposedly professional media people it is especially disheartening. Instead of opening up constructive and civic discourse on difficult, wicked problems like homelessness, these actions are counterproductive. I could finger-point here in this blog post, but I will refrain.

London Listening

I love coffee shops. I love hanging out and listening to conversations in coffee shops. To me, such eavesdropping provides rich information about a place and its people.

Recently, I had the privilege of returning to London for work and had ample time to hang out and listen to what Londoners were sharing with their coffee and tea-mates. Brexit was, of course, a big topic of conversation with many people saying things such as, “I’m sick of hearing about it. The world is sick of hearing about it.” But there were more fascinating comments that have stayed with me.

A young man in a black turtleneck sweater was talking with his girlfriend in a small East London coffee shop. This was close to a series of major low-income and ironically named ‘housing estates.’ As his girlfriend sat down and he had greeted her, he said, “Deracinated. That’s a new word I learned today. It means uprooted, but whether or not that is forcibly uprooted I am not sure. Deracinated sounds violent though.” He asked his girlfriend what new word she had learned and she said, “neighborliness.” He replied (with a snort), “Neighborliness is so very middle-class. People where I live are nice but they don’t really help each other. Well, they do have a community garden so that’s something. You’re all basically living on top of each other so you may as well be friends.”

Later that same day, in an upscale coffee shop in Bloomsbury, a grey-haired British philosophy professor (he was quite proud of this fact so he worked it into his conversation several times) said to an older American couple, “In America, immigrants assimilate much better than they do here–or in any other country in the world for that matter. Here, they stay with their own kind and don’t mix in very well and then they cause all sorts of problems.” (This comment had to do with the Brexit anti-immigration undercurrent.) Then, he went on a tirade about the MeToo movement—”What were you in America thinking when letting those men-haters loose to wreck havoc on innocent men who lost their jobs just for looking at women the wrong way? Toxic masculinity and preferred pronouns and all of that is pure bunk!”

Coffee shops, public parks, public libraries are all examples of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg termed “third places”—not home and not work, but rather the public square or communal living room of a community. Such third places are important for civic engagement, democracy, developing a healthy sense of place and of belonging for a diversity of people. They foster conversations across differences and can help to support mental health and well-being. In my experience, the East London coffee shop was such a third place, while the snobbish—and toxically masculine—Bloomsbury cafe was decidedly not a third place.

Let the Light In

Doorway Community Cafe

“Is there still a will in this country to make things better?” Ben Danielson, MD, director of the Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Clinic asked this question a few days ago in a nursing course I co-teach. His question resonates with me as I firmly believe that we all have the responsibility to leave things better than we found them. It is all too easy to complain bitterly about a situation we find distasteful but not work to improve things.

That is why I am grateful for our interprofessional Doorway Project team, youth serving agencies, and the young people in Seattle who are working to bring the dream of a community cafe to reality. The photo above shows the iterative design rendering of the cafe space, along with Seattle sunshine coming through the imagined (and real) skylights from our pop-up cafe event this past week. The sticky notes have additions from participants. Their suggestions include such as a rooftop community garden, music, a small shower—and stuffed animals to hug.

Our Doorway team is tasked with the lofty goal of ending youth homelessness in Seattle’s University District. We’re doing this by working with young people who are “experts by experience”—and with the wider community—to design a community cafe space where everyone is welcome. And where young people are valued for who they are and for what they bring to the table: music, artwork, poetry, storytelling, and more.

Dr. Danielson admonished our students in class this week to “not be shy about stealing good ideas,” pointing out that things we think of as innovative have usually been done before. For the Doorway Community Cafe we are building on the model of the Merge Cafe in Auckland, New Zealand, as well as the Open Door Cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland. The work of our students and young people from the community on the Doorway Project gives me hope for the future.

When Nursing Bores Me to Tears

While there is much that I love about nursing and about being a nurse, there are times when it bores me to tears, times when I feel I have been dropped down a rabbit hole time warp, times when I despair for its future. My current list includes:

  1. When the Cult of Florence Nightingale is invoked as the one and only true vision of modern nursing;
  2. When busy (and boring) Powerpoint slides are used as props to make any and all (mostly vacuous) statements;
  3. When nurse academic-types staunchly defend an old, tired, narrow-minded, biomedical model of ‘nursing research’ as the one and only true version of research;
  4. When older, privileged white women (who seemingly are blithely unaware of their privilege) are nursing’s chosen leaders and spokespersons.

There are effective antidotes to this despair and I will share my list in a follow-up post.

Yes, Virginia, Slavery Was Real

And yes, Virginia, your deeply entrenched legacy of racism is showing. It is ugly and the way you are addressing it (I’m talking to you, Governor Northam) is exasperating and shameful.

I am a Virginian. I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia; was (moderately) educated in its Hanover County public schools (Battlefield Park Elementary School, Stonewall Jackson Junior High School, and Lee Davis High School—need I say more?); and, I received my nursing degree from the Medical College of Virginia. Oh yes, and I was married and had my son there. I was a Virginia resident for the first thirty years of my life. I worked with former white (and blatantly racist) classmates of Governor Northam.

This past week I have had colleagues and even (non-Virginian) family members ask me if this whole “blackface and KKK garb” at college/medical school parties and even in yearbooks was really that widespread in the 1980s. Of course it was. Does that make it okay? Of course not. Everyone knew how hateful and racist it was.

Governor Northam is showing his true white male supremacist color in how he is handling the ‘outing’ of the blackface/KKK garb photo on his medical school yearbook page. Promising to read Ta-Nehisi Coates, as if that will provide the ‘magical negro’ cure for his own racism? Digging his heels in (because he can) and proclaiming, “I’m not going anywhere” and that he “has grown” over the past week of controversy? How he is acting now is the true measure of the man—and of the state of racism in our country.

Stories Beget Stories

Stories beget stories, so be careful of the ones you tell—or listen to or share.

This past week I was a participant in the StoryCenter‘s webinar “Defining Compassion in Nursing” based on the Nurstory digital storytelling project founded by Dr. Sue Hagedorn from the University of Colorado School of Nursing. I was intrigued by the title of the webinar as well as by the opportunity to learn how digital storytelling is being used in nursing education and advocacy.

Digital storytelling (DS) refers to short video segments (typically 3-5 minutes in length) personal narratives that incorporate digital images, music, and voice-over narration by the person making the video. They are typically created within a workshop-based process that includes a Story Circle to share, critique, and refine stories-in-progress. Developed in the early 1990s by media/theater artists Dana Atchley and Joe Lambert and promoted through their StoryCenter (formerly the Center for Digital Storytelling), DS has been used for public health research, training, and policy campaigns (such as the powerful Silence Speaks global women’s health/human rights campaign); community building (such as the now archived BBC Capture Wales program); literacy programs; and reflective practice with health science students. DS is increasingly used as an innovative community-based participatory method that is especially effective at informing program planners and policy makers about the lived experiences of marginalized people.

Besides the fact that not all stories can or should be told in a nice, neat, linear 3-5 minute format, there are numerous ethical issues to consider. A brief overview of some of the ethical issues with DS is included on the StoryCenter website under “Ethical Practice in Digital Storytelling.” And, with their permission, here is an excellent overview by Kelsen Caldwell (formerly in the University of Washington School of Medicine, Health Sciences Service Learning and Advocacy group) of ethical considerations of storytelling in health advocacy work with communities: “The Ethics of Storytelling.”

I have worked with groups of people experiencing homelessness, as well as with health science students working on community-based service-learning projects that include homeless people, and have helped them to make some of their own DS videos. I completed a participatory digital storytelling video workshop in August, 2015 with a group of homeless youth through the Zine Project Seattle (sadly, no longer in existence). With their permission I share links to two of their videos here: “Harm Reduction is Good” and “Tug of War.”

“Soul Stories: Homeless Journeys Told Through Feet” is a DS video I made to accompany a show of my photographs and poems/prose that then became the book, Soul Stories: Voices From the Margins (2018). Also from this book, I made “Listen, Carefully” (at 7 minutes a bit long for a DS). In a StoryCenter workshop at the University of Washington, Bothell campus during the summer of 2016, I made my “Homeless Professor” digital storytelling video which was based on a portion of my medical memoir, Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety Net (2016). My very first DS video I made was “My Story of Community Health Nursing” that I continue to use in teaching population/community health nursing. In reviewing these DS videos, I am struck by their staying power and relevance for me. Although technically rough in places, they tell stories I want to share.

I have concerns about how empathy and compassion are defined by nursing and how we as nurse educators have our own unpacked, unexamined, uncritically looked at stories of what nursing should and should not be. Who gets to decide what is a “proper” nurse story of compassion? Shouldn’t it more properly be Nurstories instead of the singular Nurstory? That said, after viewing all of the DS videos on the Nurstory website, I am struck by how powerful and even subversive several of them are. Rawaih Faltatah’s “Circle of Care” is an ode to her older sister, a nurse, and the effects of her caring and compassion on her own life and choice of a career in nursing. A more difficult to watch and listen to, yet subversive and important DS video is “Invisible Touch” by Kate Clayton-Jones.